Category Archives: wild-success

What does wild success look like? Kaizen and life; tweaking mornings

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

“What does wild success look like?” I often ask that question when I want to clarify what we want to do and how we want to get there. I ask myself that question as well. If I could be wildly successful at whatever I want to do, what would life look like? Sketching a picture of what I want or writing about how it feels helps me figure out what kind of life I’d like to grow into, and the vision helps me figure out what I need to do to get there.

Sometimes I think about grand things, like the kind of difference I’d like to make. Sometimes I focus on the mechanics and the details – what does the day feel like? What are my routines? Who do I talk to? Both perspectives help me flesh out my sketch.

Sure, there are erasures as I change my mind, smudges as I blend different colors together, and lots of different versions of wild success depending on what I’m thinking about or how I’m feeling, but it’s a terrific tool for thinking long-term.

For example, here’s something I scribbled down on my iPod Touch while on the subway:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

There’s more to it than that, and there are multiple versions too, but this is the one we’ll focus on for this blog post.

One of the advantages of envisioning wild success is that you often realize that it’s not too difficult to make it happen. The routine I’ve outlined doesn’t look too different from my typical day working at home. Because I’ve sketched the different components of my “ideal day”, I can start testing those parts to see if I can fit them into my life and if they really do contribute to happiness.

For example, I’ve been testing out this early-morning wakeup thing. I know that waking up and rushing through my morning routine is Not Fun. I also know that I enjoy creating “flow” space to do creative work in the early morning, and that I enjoy making breakfast for W- and J-. So an early morning wake-up time makes sense to me. But there are a couple of things I need to figure out in order to make this really work:

  • I don’t like waking up and bearing a grudge against the alarm clock. I’ve heard that gentler wake-up systems that use light and music to ease people into wakefulness are helpful. Dawn simulators (daylight alarm clocks) are a bit pricey and I think I’ll get more use out of an iPod clock radio with speakers, so I’ll go for that instead. Gradually waking up in the process of making breakfast seems to work too.
  • I feel guilty about disturbing others when I set the alarm clock very early, particularly as I’m also prone to hitting the snooze button. The way to deal with this is to fill my mornings with stuff that makes me want to jump out of bed. =)
  • My timing is not quite right. If I wake up really early and go to bed really early, I might get too out-of-sync with the rest of the folks. If I wake up early, but not early enough, and I need to go to the office, I don’t get as much flow time because it gets broken up by breakfast and the commute. I prefer commuting during daylight because it’s a bit warmer and brighter then. Given that, there are a couple of ways I can tweak my timing:
    • I can let myself wake up naturally, have breakfast and go to work, and then have a late lunch (buoyed by a morning snack). This gives me flow time.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, and work from home in the mornings, coming into work in the afternoon if needed.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, commute to work, get lots of stuff done, come home early, and enjoy people’s company at dinner.

So if I want to wake up even happier and have even more productive mornings (which is difficult if I feel tired or stressed), I can tweak my life so that:

  • I experiment with ways to wake up gently
  • I wake up with a clear idea of things to look forward to and some activities to do as my brain warms up
  • I never commit to anything in the late evening so that I can go to bed whenever I feel like it

Then I’ll be a little bit closer to figuring out what a wildly successful day looks and feels like… =)

What does your ideal day look like?

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

Wild success and social networks

Every so often, I have these moments when I realize: This must be the future. It’s here!

On Wednesday, I received an urgent request for a Web 2.0 strategy and intranet design expert for a 5-week engagement in Europe. A $10M deal hinged on our ability to find such a person before the end of the week. The project team had already asked the usual groups, and everyone was fully booked.

I knew that we needed to cast a much wider net than just the people I knew. I summarized the request and posted it to our Web 2.0 for Business community inside IBM. I asked people to respond on the discussion thread, e-mail me, or contact the person who had sent us the request. The program manager for the deal found the discussion thread and posted some more details, and we asked people to send him their résumés.

The response was amazing. People stepped forward. They passed the opportunities along to their social networks, diversity groups, and communities. After a flurry of e-mails, Sametime instant messages, and discussion thread posts, we found a lot of strong candidates. The program manager contacted the top candidates and put together a package for the client. Along the way, I got to know lots of people with just the right skillset we were looking for. Suzanne Minassian-Livingston was right: IBM is like an amazing candy-store full of talent.

Problem solved, thanks to Lotus Connections Communities and strong social networks within IBM. I would never have found or thought of all of those people on my own, and it would have taken us too much time to work through the normal e-mail chains in networks. Not only did we solve the problem, we also created a powerful success story that showed the client the value of Web 2.0 on the intranet.

Hooray for IBM, Lotus Connections, and social networks!

In my dreams of wild success

In my dreams of wild success, I am not an executive, not a manager, not a consultant, not a seller. I am a maker.

I don’t architect complex systems. I build on the human scale: small, simple tools that make individual people’s lives better.

The mechanical translation of designs and diagrams to code has moved to other countries. Development is seen as less valuable, less interesting, less glamorous. There must still be opportunities for invention, for finding a need and solving it.

I love the concrete progress of checking requests off my list, delighting people, and building something that saves people time and effort.

This is interesting for me, because I’m learning that my happiness map can change, and there’s always more to learn. It turns out that I’m more passionate about coding than about coaching people on collaboration or helping executives learn about emerging business trends.

Maybe work is like happiness. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy what I used to do, too. There are multiple ways forward.

Like the way I learned to not stress out about “potential” in life, I need to learn how to not stress out about “potential” at work.

I don’t have a clear path for myself yet. I haven’t picked a life out of a catalogue and said, “That’s who I want to be.” I haven’t picked a job description and made that my goal.

I don’t know. There, I admitted it. This might discourage people from investing in my career. Who wants to groom someone for a particular field and then have them cross over into a different one? But I’d rather be clear about figuring things out than pretend that I’m certain.

I love what I’m doing. I’m passionate about what we can do at IBM as we learn how to work smarter. I enjoy helping people brainstorm and innovate. I’m exploring this with IBM because I’m in the right place at the right time, and I can help make bigger things happen.

But I want my life to also include rolling up my sleeves and making things myself. At some point in my life, I want to build systems that people will enjoy using.

Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical in a number of years. Maybe I’ll free up time to do this as a hobby.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll find more role models for this other path, and my dreams will expand to include what I’ve learned from them too.

What do you see in your dreams of wild success? Does it match how you’re living?

Success and blogging

What’s success when you’re writing a personal blog–not a niche blog which you want to make money from through ads or e-books, not a corporate blog where you want to project a certain brand, but a personal blog, a notebook into which you write whatever might be useful to you and others?

Success is not a matter of becoming wildly popular.

You succeed as soon as you grasp a thought and try to think it through, writing it down. Even if you throw away your draft and never publish it (although please do–you’ll be surprised at how valuable these sketches and attempts to explain can be), you have already gained a little more clarity and understanding.

You succeed again when you share those thoughts, getting over your fear, anxiety, and discomfort.

You succeed again when you look up your old posts for a solution you’d written down or a reflection you’d shared, saving you time figuring things out again.

You succeed again when people read your post–even several years later, brought in by search engines–and they learn something from it. You succeed again when they do something about it.

You succeed again when someone shares their thoughts in a comment, even if it’s to point out that you’ve missed something. (Another opportunity to learn!)

You succeed again when one comment turns into another, and into a serendipitous connection you might never have made.

You succeed again when you learn something, and again when you do something about it.

You succeed again when you build friendships.

There are so many different kinds of success in blogging. Don’t get distracted by all the fuss about increasing your subscriber count, building your personal brand, or making money through ads, products, or services. There’s more to it than that. Enjoy!

2010-07-28 Wed 07:46

What I want from visual notetaking; imagining wild success

drawing-planning

Here’s what I want when it comes to visual notetaking. I’m going to go through thousands of books, presentations, blog posts, conversations, ideas, and thoughts in my lifetime. Maybe even millions of these little pieces of content.

I want to get really good at remembering, reusing, and sharing the significant ones, a tiny fraction of the whole. I often refer to ideas I’ve picked up in the past. I recommend books to others. I review items to see if I’ve been applying the lessons I learned, and if there are more I can use. Sometimes I come across unexpected combinations – part of one book resonating with a presentation on a different topic mixed in with a conversation I’ve just had. I benefit from holding these ideas near working memory.

Like the way I can flip through a slideshow faster than I can speedread a book, it might be easier and faster to review an archive of visuals than to refresh my memories using text notes. If I can convert some of this abundance of content into visuals, then I can use that to get around the limitations of time, attention, and memory.

Maybe other people will find the sketches useful. Maybe I’ll scale up and work with other illustrators, readers, and writers. Even if I don’t, though, I think that having these visual notes will make it easier for me in the long run.

Here’s a project for myself: convert my book notes into sketches. I could do the Lean Startup thing to find out if other people would be interested in the idea before I invest a lot of time and effort into it – mock up a minimum viable product with payment options or a subscription model. But then I want something like this for myself, too, so it’s okay to spend some time figuring out what I want before pitching it to others.

What would wild success look and feel like?

I have visual notes for the key ideas I want to revisit. I flip through them rapidly once a day, and rotate my desktop or screensaver through random ones for serendipity. They’re searchable through Evernote and accessible even when mobile. I’ve posted many of them online. Subscriptions, book reviews, and advertising provide a stream of income. People recommend other books and ideas I should check out.

I occasionally do sketchnotes on commission: simple sketches of key ideas captured in real-time during webinars or recorded presentations, used for marketing and post-session follow-ups. I also sketch summaries based on blog posts, e-books, or books sent to me. I do the occasional meetup or lecture as well, taking notes on my laptop. Focusing on electronic content means that I don’t have to travel or lug large rolls of paper around, and it takes advantage of my setup with multiple monitors.

In addition to sketchnotes, I offer or coordinate useful complementary services: presentation planning, design, coaching, transcription, e-book creation, writing, and so on. These help people scale up their ideas and engage more people.

My visual style is crisp, simple, with visual metaphors and the occasional pun. I usually work with one or two accent colours, and have figured out how to draw people with character and objects that have some heft. I draw in high-resolution mode just in case I want to make a letter-sized print of something, although I’m okay with redrawing in case I want to make a poster.

Most of the time, I work at a standing desk I’ve rigged up facing the garden. I take breaks and go for long walks, or do some gardening. Sometimes I go to art galleries to immerse myself in colour and shape and line. I keep a digital notebook of things I like: title treatments, hand-lettering, colour combinations, visual metaphors, drawing techniques. I flip through it for inspiration, and add my experiments to it as well.

I use my sketches as anchors not only for ideas, but also for memories. Like the way people flip through their photographs, I go through my sketches. I like it because I can sketch scenes that I didn’t get to shoot, and I can draw them the way they felt like instead of just what I saw. Drawing has become a part of my life, and I sketch regularly. I’ve even started drawing on paper, using ink and markers.

So, how do I get closer to that?

I’ll start with the sketchnotes, because that would be a great way to review things, develop style, and practise the craft. As I accumulate more notes, I’ll put them in a special section of my blog so that people can read them easily. I already have the standing desk (actually a kitchen chopping board). When I want to take a break from making sketchnotes, I can draw memories or fiction. Looking forward to it!

Thinking about what wild success at 29 looks like

One of the brainstorming exercises I picked up from our workshops at IBM was the idea of a “wild success story” – imagining a great future and backtracking from there to the present. It’s useful in personal life, too. For example, this is what I blogged in 2009:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

I’m close to that, but I’m not quite there yet. My Fridays are shaping up that way, though, and we’ll see how things go in September.

On a larger scale, what would a wildly successful 29th year look like? Looking back on the eve of my 30th birthday in 2013, I’d like to be able to say:

  • I have even more wonderful relationships with family and friends.
  • I regularly stay in touch, and have good notes on what people are interested in and are up to.
  • I survived my first business tax return, yay! I’m now investing in building skills while giving back to the community, eventually turning that into income from mobile apps, illustration/animation, and other ways to create value.
  • I’ve got lots of sketchnotes of meetups, books, and product reviews. I’ve organized them into a blog and an e-book. My sketchnotes have colour and depth and interesting layouts. =) I help people find out about useful stuff and good get-togethers.
  • I’ve updated my Stories from my Twenties e-book with what I’ve learned from my 29th year, and I’ve shared the updates with the people who bought the book and sent me their receipts.
  • I’ve gone through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, and I understand it. =) I’m also picking up Cantonese.
  • I’ve been having fun gardening. We’re growing more greens and have actually gotten into the habit of eating them. (I know!)
  • My finances are on track for my 5-year experiment; this might even be extended at least a few more years.
  • I’m ready to rock my thirties!